April 12, 2011

Bipartisan Group Introduces RECA Amendments Act of 2011

Bill Would Expand Relief for Americans Sickened by Radiation Exposure

Washington, D.C . -- Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have joined Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2011.  The Act would provide expanded restitution for Americans sickened from working in uranium mines or living downwind of atomic weapons tests.

Other co-sponsors of the bill include Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Mark Udall (D-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).  Companion legislation was concurrently introduced in the House by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM-3).

Among other things, the RECA Amendments of 2011 would build upon previous RECA legislation by further widening qualifications for compensation for radiation exposure; qualifying post 1971 uranium workers for compensation; equalizing compensation for all claimants to $150,000; expanding the downwind exposure area to include seven states; and funding an epidemiological study of the health impacts on families of uranium workers and residents of uranium development communities.

"I recognize the burden placed upon cancer patients and their families to pay for the expensive regimen of treatments this disease requires. Passage of this legislation is the first step in helping Idahoans get the care they need," said Crapo.

"For decades now, Idahoans have been pleading their case to the federal government for help in dealing with the health effects they suffered as a result of nuclear testing.  This bill answers those pleas by providing the same assistance those in neighboring states already receive," said Risch.

"As the U.S. government built up its Cold War nuclear arsenal during the mid-20 thcentury, many Americans paid the price with their health - and all the while, the government was slow to implement federal protections," Tom Udall said. "With this legislation, we honor a generation of hardworking Americans who sacrificed their lives and health by working or living near the uranium mines. We are taking the next step to close this sad chapter in our history by expanding RECA to include all who are justified in receiving radiation exposure compensation."

"This legislation represents a continued commitment to compensating Americans whose health was negatively affected by the Cold War.  I am particularly glad that the bill includes - for the first time - the downwinders from the Trinity site who have never been compensated," said Bingaman, who worked on the original RECA law, as well as the 2000 law that made several improvements to the program.

"The patriots who worked on nuclear sites and in uranium mines during the Cold War were crucial to maintaining our national security," Mark Udall said. "It's our responsibility now to make sure we help properly take care of those who are dealing with illnesses they contracted because of radiation exposure. This bill will expand RECA so that a wider pool of workers affected and communities downwind will be able to access the compensation they deserve." 

"During the Cold War, thousands of Coloradans served our country by working to build the nation's nuclear arsenal and now we know that through no fault of their own, they were not properly protected from harmful radiation exposure," Bennet said. "I will continue to work with this bipartisan group of likeminded Senators who are fighting to properly compensate those workers, their families and others who have suffered over many years. Addressing this wrong is the only right and just thing to do."

"Communities throughout New Mexico are still reeling from the legacy of uranium mining, as it continues to impact families to this day.  It is critical that we continue to fight for those who have been affected so they can be compensated for the suffering they have endured.  This legislation recognizes the sacrifices of the workers and miners whose efforts contributed to our victory during the Cold War, and the downwinders who have been forgotten for too long.  These patriotic Americans have waited long enough for the compensation they deserve," said Luján.

Specifically, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2011 would:

  • Extend compensation to employees of mines and mills employed after Dec. 31, 1971.  These are individuals who began working in uranium mines and mills after the U.S. stopped purchasing uranium, but failed to implement and enforce adequate uranium mining safety standards. Many of these workers have the same illnesses as pre-1971 workers who currently qualify for RECA compensation.
  • Add core drillers to the list of compensable employees, which currently only includes miners, millers and ore transporters.
  • Add renal cancer, or any other chronic renal disease, to the list of compensable diseases for employees of mines and mills. Currently, millers and transporters are covered for kidney disease, but miners are not.
  • Allow claimants to combine work histories to meet the requirement of the legislation. For example, individuals who worked half a year in a mill and half a year in a mine would be eligible for compensation. Currently, the Department of Justice makes some exceptions for this, but the policy is not codified in law.
  • Make all claimants available for an equal amount of compensation, specifically $150,000, regardless of whether they are millers, miners, ore transporters, onsite employees, or downwinders.
  • Make all claimants eligible for medical benefits. Currently, only miners, millers and ore transporters can claim medical benefits through the medical expense compensation program.
  • Recognize radiation exposure from the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, as well as tests in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Expand the downwind areas to include all of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah for the Nevada Test Site; New Mexico for the Trinity Test Site; and Guam for the Pacific tests.
  • Allow the use of affidavits to substantiate employment history, presence in affected area, and work at a test site. Current legislation only allows miners to use affidavits.
  • Return all attorney fees to a cap of 10 percent of the amount of the RECA claim, as was mandated in the original 1990 RECA legislation.
  • Authorize $3 million for five years for epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium developmenton communities and families of uranium workers. The funds would be allocated to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to award grants to universities and non-profits to carry out the research.
  • Allow in the miners, millers, core drillers, and ore transporters to file a Special Exposure Cohort petition within the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). Other DOE workers are currently allowed to file such petitions for compensation when claims are denied and there is not enough information for NIOSH to do dose reconstruction to determine the impacts of exposure.